What Blooms in Wildfire Burns?

RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_vw4_8.2.18_1_s_Q1_5x3-180Forest fires can appear devastating at first, but for the most part nature has its systems for resilience. Depending on how hot the fire was and what plants were present both above and below ground and nearby, vegetation will return in its own due course. In some cases, plants sprout that have not been noticed in years, and indeed are triggered to flower after the heat of the moment. Others take advantage of the open ground and fly in with fresh seeds. Still others have stored seed until the magic moment. Wildlife also takes advantage of the changes.

Lodgepole PinePinus contorta – is a fire-adapted species. While the thin-barked trees are killed, thick “serotinous” cones have held seeds for years.PinuCont_FrSerCU_MWRd_32212_1.jpgTheir cones have thick scales with spine tips which protect the seeds inside from mauraders and weather for years.  When a fire comes through, the resin that has sealed the scales shut melts, and cone scales open wide, releasing winged seeds upon the wind. The delicate embryos fall onto newly exposed soil, which may be enhanced by ash, and quickly germinate. Ash often contains recycled nutrients and retains warmth which helps the seeds grow.  Seeds germinate quickly, giving them a headstart among competing plants.  Pines in fact need sun to grow well. A truly fire adapated species!

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Mountain MallowIlliamna rivularis – often appears in great numbers after a burn.  Affected by extreme heat, their thick seed coats crack, enabling seeds to imbibe water and sprout. These seeds may have lain buried for decades in the soil waiting for such a moment. BTNF_PalmCanTr_Burn_IlliRivu_7_7.13.18_Q2_5x3_180Due to a prescribed burn south of Hoback, the slopes along the trail up Palmer Creek are now covered with 4-5’ flowering Mountain Mallow plants (photo above taken 7.13.18). Soon fruits, which look like peeled hairy tangerines, will split to release seeds for the next generation decades in the future (photo below).IlliRivu_frsSt_LeiLk_91213_2aCrpsmNote: In mountain mallow the seedbank is in the soil, in lodgepole pine, the seedbank is in the air.

Another plant that responds uniquely to fire is SnowbrushCeonothus velutinus. Hikers can see a profusion of Snowbrush along String Lake (below) and on the way to Taggart Lake in Teton National Park.TNP17_StrLkTr_CeonVelu_CU_WyHab_6.30.17_2_5x3_180This evergreen, resinous, sprawling shrub will shoot up new branches from old roots after a light fire. After heavy burns, it can also sprout from “Rip-van-Winkle” seeds.CeonVelu_fllfCU__StrLk_71105_2_3x1_180

Flowers blooming almost a century ago produced seeds that have been lying in wait until heat and sun stimulated them to germinate. CeonVelu_frLvs_BTTr_82013_1_5x3_180

Others report a profusion of White SpiraeaSpiraea betulifolia – blooming (photo below) within the 34,000-acre area of the Cliff Creek Fire, also of 2016.  This appears to be another species is “released” after a fire.SpirBetu_fllf_20LkRd_71113_1a_5x3_180.jpg

The results of the 20,000+ acre Berry Fire are visible from the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway (photo below) and Grassy Lake Road. The 2016 fire burned fast and hot in some areas forming a mosaic of impact.RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_8.2.18_5a_s_Q2_5x3_180Notably, in some areas it burned through lodgepole stands that were recolonizing from a fire only a few years before. Ecologists and foresters are concerned that this unusual short “return” interval will be the pattern of future fires in this era of climate disruption.

PinegrassCalamagrostis rubescens – is a tufted, long-leaved grass that rarely blooms. While a common groundcover in the shade of a forest, it usually goes unnoticed by hikers because it is “just a grass.” However, with the stimulus of fire and sun, 2-3’ stalks of delicate flowers shoot up and flourish (photo below). TNP17_Burn_CalaRube_8.17.17_2_Q2_5x3_180 Deep fibrous roots of Pinegrass are important for holding soils, especially when soils are vulnerable to erosion after fires. Plants are blooming in profusion near the parkway.

RkPkwy_Burn_For_flwMix_Epil_Cala_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_5x3_250FireweedEpilobium/Chamerion angustifolia – is well known for showing up after fires. In the insulating soil, rhizomatous (underground creeping) stems growing 4-6” deep may have survived the above-ground heat to sprout again. Even one surviving plant can shed 1000s of seeds that can catch upon the wind, land, and germinate quickly on exposed ground. (Photo above shows both Fireweed and Pinegrass.)

Other plants flowering among blackend trunks include several members of the Aster Family which have deep roots and seeds dispersed by wind.RkPkwy_Burn_ArniXdive_8.2.18_2_s_Q2_crp_%x3_180Cheerful patches of Broadleaf ArnicaArnica latifolia – and a strange hybrid, likely Arnica X diversifolia – a cross between Heartleaf and Broadleaf arnica, are growing in charred soils (photo above).RkPkwy_Burn_GrsLkRd_SoliMiss_8.2.18_2_s_Q1_5x3_180Large clumps of yellow Missouri GoldenrodSolidago missouriensis – was dense along Grassy Lake Road, brightening the dark scene (photo above).RkPkwy_Burn_GrsLkRd_flwMix_EuryInte_Achi_8.2.18_2_s_Q2_5x3_180A mix of YarrowAchillea millefolium – and Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolia are common in fields right now, but they are also flourishing in the sun under dead lodgepole pine trees along Grassy Lake Road (photo above).

TNP17_Burn_LupiArge_8.17.17_1_5x3_180Silvery LupineLupinus argenteus – seeds are “scarified” by the heat of fire, enabling  buried seeds to germinate relatively quickly.  As a legume, lupines have a mutually beneficial relationship with bacteria in their root nodules that can “fix” nitrogen. This provides lupines an advantage in colonizing poor soils (photo above). Their heavy seeds pop out of their pea-pod like fruits.RkPkwy_Burn_DracParvi_hab_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_crp_5x3_180A robust member of the Mint Family – DragonheadDracocephalum parviflorum – (photo above) was a new species to this botanist. Apparently it thrives in disturbed soils.RkPkwy_Burn_flwmix_ErigSpec_Peri_Lupi_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_5x3_250Patches of other common meadow flowers have retained a niche as well, including Oregon DaisyErigeron speciosus – (photo above) with its many narrow, lavender ray flowers (ray flowers look like petals). Many perennials have deep storage roots that are often insulated by soils to heat of fire (or the cold of winter.)

It is unclear to this writer how much of the open areas between forest patches of the Berry Fire actually burned, if at all.  (Do you know?) Often meadows don’t provide enough fuel to carry a fire. However, embers often fly across roads, wetlands, and meadow, igniting trees despite the intevening “fire breaks.” In any case, this is what is growing in the meadows.

RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_vw1_8.2.18_2_s_Q1_5x3_180Common YampaPerideridia montana – has created a tapestry of white. Upon a walk through the area, one can see that many late-summer flowers which are common elsewhere as here as well: a hidden layer of Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscossimum, blue spires of Tall DelphiniumDelphinium occidentale, yellow sprays of CinquefoilPotentilla spp., orange-yellow Rocky Mountain GolendrodSolidago multiradiata, and spikes of blue Silvery Lupine mix in.

Common grasses include: stiff spikes of TimothyPhleum pratensis (photo below), PhlePrat_fl_2OL_8714_3_5x5_180Mountain BromeBromus carinatus (photo below),BromCari_fl_BTTr_62715_1_5x5_180and elegant spikelets of OniongrassMelica spectabilis (photo below):MeliSpec_flCU_BTTrHd_62215_2Q2_5x5_160(Note all the grasses pictured above are in bloom)

These grasses have dense deep roots or bulbs, as in the aptly named Oniongrass (below).MeliSpec_bulbfl_SkiLktr_62815_1acrpsmGrasses have evolved to sprout from buds at the base of their leaves – an adaptation to both browsing and fire.

As for wildlife, signs of elk are frequent–they enjoy nutritious grasses. Bears will enjoy the storage roots of yampa come spring—or perhaps pocket gophers, which also eat yampa roots. A week ago, a pair of Sandhill Cranes was walking through the downed trunks, feeding on insects. Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers seek out burned-over forests as long as the bark remains. Using their chisel-like bills, these woodpeckers feast on insects feeding and breeding under peeling, split bark of weakened or dead trees.

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Despite the stark appearance, all is not lost after a wildfire.TNP17_Burn_Logs_EpilAngu_8.17.17_1_5x3_180

Much is being researched and understood about fire ecology.  It is facinating to conduct your own observations.  We have a wonderful opportunity to see the variations in progression at the Berry and Cliff Creek Fires, both of which were started by lightning two years ago.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

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Meadow Flowers: Obvious Favorites of the Sun

BTNF_Munger_vwFl_7.4.18_3_q2_5x3_180smWith summer strong, flowers are blooming everywhere in and around Jackson Hole. Here are a favorite dozen (plus!) wildflowers seen on hikes this past week: around Phelps Lake and up Munger Mountain (above); the start of the Ski Lake Trail; just south of Teton Pass; and the north end of Grand Teton National Park.  Lower elevations fade first while upper elevations are just emerging.

As always, it is fascinating to observe flower shapes and color and to discover which pollinators come to visit. Much is still unknown about how flowers work. Also, much of the action occurs underground.  Enjoy your investigations.

Sticky Geraniums (Geranium viscosissimum) are abundant both in full sun and under the shade of aspen trees. Their wide-open pink to magenta flowers attract pollinators of various sizes. Nectar guides—dark lines—lead into the center of the flower to the reward of both nectar and pollen. Male pollen is offered first by 10 anthers, and as the flower matures, five female stigmas are then exposed to gather pollen from insect visitors.  This way it is not fertilized by itself, which can cause inbreeding depression.

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Wide open flowers invite a variety of pollinators.  Here the male anthers are ready before the femail stigmas which lie in the very center of the flower.

One-flowered Little Sunflowers (Helianthella uniflora) form masses of cheerful yellow on hillsides.

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About 2-2.5’ tall, each of its many stems sports more or less opposite leaves with three strong veins. The stems are topped off with at least one 2”-wide flower head.

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Here the Little Sunflowers are flourishing high on Munger Mountain July 4.

Its more robust relative Five-veined Little Sunflower (Helianthella quinquenervis) stands taller and glares right at you.

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Note the number of pollinators and the individual small flowers beginning to bloom!  As composites, sunflowers have many tiny flowers that unfurl in a spiral, starting on the outside.  These many flowers form a “head”.

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The large lower leaves have 5 distinct nerves (quinque = 5 and nervis = nerves) and plants usually have only one big 3-4” flower head per stem.

Both of these sunflowers are relatively small compared to cultivated sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) produced for oil and seed. Note, a sunflower head has many tiny flowers that bloom in a spiral sequence. Each flower will produce a fruit with a single seed—think about unshelled sunflower seeds—the shell or husk is the fruit, with a nutritious seed inside. Birds will flock to the seeds when ripe.

Fernleaf Lovage (Ligusticum filicinum) or osha is just coming into flower in some places. Individual tiny flowers are held out in umbels—structures similar to ribs of an umbrella. Umbels are a distinctive feature of the Parsley or former Umbelliferae Family.

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Lovage leaves are finely dissected, similarly to its relative—carrot or Queen’s Anne’s lace.

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Below the frilly skirts of leaves grows a dense collection of pungent roots that Native Americans have used for centuries for medicinal purposes.

Giant Hyssop (Agastache urticifolia) is one of the few members of the fragrant mint family in Jackson Hole.

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Like all mints, the 2-4’ stems of Giant Hyssop are square, the scented leaves are opposite, and the flowers “bilabiate” or “irregular” e.g. flowers have two similar halves—like our faces.

Long anthers stick out, distributing pollen on the heads of hovering hummingbirds or on bodies of pushy bees which use the lower petals as platforms.  Upon visits to other hyssop flowers, these pollinators distribute pollen to female parts which form seeds.

While several of the flowers listed below have faded in southern, lower reaches of Jackson Hole, they are blooming abundantly up near Oxbow Bend and at higher elevations.

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Many flowers that bloomed around Antelope Flats a few weeks ago are now blooming at higher elevations or more northern reaches of the park.

Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) forms “clouds” of flowers above mats of ½” oval leaves.

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At this time of year, 1’ stems shoot up forming clouds of fluffy creamy white to yellow to rose flowers. They float low over the hillside or sageflats.  At the base of the “inflorescence” is a whorl or collar of oval leaves.

Sulphur Buckwheat flowers provide valuable nectar to pollinators, such as Parnassian Butterflies. Dr. Diane Debinski of Montana State University is investigating the relation of this species and Clodius Parnassian butterflies (Parnassius clodius) near Pacific Creek to determine impacts of climate change on insect populations.

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I think this is a Clodius Parnassian butterfly which is being studied.  The species nectars on Sulphur Buckwheat flowers.

Towering up between sulphur flowers, wands of Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) wave in the wind.

IpomAggr_flst_AntFl_6.19.17_1_crp_3x5_240The 1-2” red trumpet flowers attract hummingbirds, which are able to hover and extend their long tongues into the deep tube to lap up (not sip) nectar. A bird’s head may be doused in pollen on one visit. On the next stop, it is poked with a sticky stigma that will collect the pollen to make seeds. Pinkish flowers later in the season attract long-tongued sphinx moths, which provide a similar pollination service.

Lupines are another common flower of both sage flats and mountain slopes.

Silky Lupine - Lupinus sericeus

Silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus), which grows in sunny locations, has hairs on the backside of the “banner” of the pea-like flowers and very hairy palmate leaves. The hairs help protect plants from intense sun and wind of open sites.

In the Pea or Legume Family, lupines can “fix nitrogen”, enabling plants to grow in poor soils. Bacteria are harbored in nodules formed by the roots. In return for the plant’s protection and some food, bacteria convert nitrogen (NH2) from the air (soil has air pockets) into a form that plants can use (NH3). For centuries, farmers have grown clovers and alfalfa—also legumes–to provide this same soil enriching function.

Some hillsides along the Ski Lake Trail or under aspens at Munger Mountain are dominated by spires of yellow Fernleaf Lousewort (Pedicularis bracteosa). PediBrac_flhab_TetPsS_7.3.18_1b_Q2_5x3_180sm.jpgThese laterally flattened, irregular flowers require bumblebees to pollinate them. Bumblebees are strong and smart enough to land on the lower lip of the flowers and push and prod their way into the throat to find nectar. In so doing, the bee gets a bunch of pollen on its body. At another flower, it distributes pollen to the stigma protruding from the top of the upper lip.

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Flowers of louseworts are designed to fit specialized pollinators. Here you can see the stigma poised to tap pollen off the back of a visiting bee.

Fernleaf Louseworts are hemiparasites—they get extra nutrients and even chemical defenses from “host” plants. Roots of louseworts can attach to Arrowleaf Groundsel (see below) and Engelmann Spruce for these added benefits.

Another “free-loader” or hemi-parasite is Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata).   The plants attach underground “haustoria” to a variety of different species. Scarlet paintbrushes, and other paintbrush species, are blooming at different elevations in Jackson Hole.

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Cinquefoils (Potentilla spp.) appear pretty much everywhere. Research indicates that the yellow- to cream-colored, 5-petalled flowers of tall cinquefoils (Potentilla arguta/glandulosa) attract dozens of different types of pollinators, which is a good evolutionary trait for success. Different insects may or may not be abundant in different years.

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Sticky Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta) is one of the most commonly seen species at this time. For precise ID, one counts up to 25 anthers, notes the roughly marked stigmas on smooth ovaries forming a slight cone in the center, and sees several flowers held tightly together on sticky stems.  In fact, taxonomists are lumping two look-alike species and now calling the genus Drymocallis. Definitely plant geek talk, you can ignore.

By being a generalist, cinquefoils are always likely to have some pollinators visit in any given year. Note: there are several different look-alike cinquefoils.

Stickseed (Hackelia micrantha) is abundant now at higher elevations, such as Teton Pass.

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The blue flowers of stickseed look like fragments of heavenly blue sky.

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However, the fruits will not be so delightful—they have devilish fruits with barbs that will attach to your socks. You will be their unwilling disperser to new lands in a few weeks.

A few other tall meadow flowers are seen along Moose-Wilson Road and will soon bloom up higher:

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A mix of tall flowers along Moose-Wilson Road where there is plenty of moistsure and sun.

Tall Larkspurs (Delphinium occidentale) are unravelling their deep- to pale-blue stalks of flowers.

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Tall Larkspur has trumpet-shaped flowers that require bee pollinators to push deeply into them to receiive their rewards.

Several tall groundsels (Senecio spp.) will soon add bouquets of yellow blossoms. Typically, flower heads all have several yellow ray (petal-like) flowers surrounded by a pallisade fence of even-sized green bracts—often with black tips. The leaves are helpful identifiers to species:

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Butterweed Groundsel (Senecio serra) has oblong serrated or toothed leaves. Plants grow to 4-6’ tall.

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Thickleaf Groundsel (Senecio crassulus) has somewhat fleshy or succulent, smooth leaves that clasp the stem. Plants  are around 12’ tall.

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Arrowleaf Groundsel (Senecio triangularis) are found in wet areas—seeps and stream edges. Leaves are distinctly arrow-shaped and sharply toothed. They grow to 2-3’ tall.

Can you guess what this is?

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A flower bud of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum spondylium)! Cow Parsnip has the largest flower cluster (umbel) of any member of the Parsley Family in the west.

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Cow Parsnip  (Heracleum spondylium) grows in moist meadows and ravines where there is enough water to supply the very large leaves on 4-6’ plants.

Of course there are many more flowers to see.  However, this “botanist’s dozen” is a good beginning to your explorations. Soon we will add postings for flowers growing in the forest, wetlands, and in just plain odd places.

Have fun!

Frances Clark, Teton Plants

P.S.  We try very hard to be accurate.  If you see an error, please let us know so that we can correct our mistakes at tetonplants@gmail.org .  Thank you!

Spring Emerging – April 2018

Our first flowers are finally revealing themselves as the snow melts along road verges, fields, sage flats, and open forests on the valley floor.

Many early wildflowers are “spring ephemerals”: they flower before there is competition for light by larger plants and then disappear, leaves and all, within a few weeks. They have adapted to this niche of opportunity.  Often just a few inches high, they are best observed on one’s belly – belly botany.

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A few sturdy woody plants are also blooming. At this time of year they count on wind for pollination, as insects are few. We often overlook their flowers because they don’t have showy petals: wind cannot see.TNP16_MWRd_AlnusSalix_Spr_1_5x3_180

Spring ephemerals emerge from underground storage units: tubers, bulbs, and rhizomes. Stored starch fuels new shoots to stretch above ground into the light where they can then form leaves for photosynthesis, making new food. They will quickly flower and then store fresh starch reserves underground for the next year. The leaves disappear from the surface—leaving only fruits to release seeds.

The growth pattern of our wild spring ephemerals is similar to our cultivated bulb plants, such as snowdrops, crocus, and daffodils whose foliage will fade by the end of spring. If you let them die back naturally in your garden instead of “tidying them up”, the leaves will make enough food to form new bulbs for a show next year.

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The flowers of Turkey PeasOrogenia linearifolia – are tiny: 10-12 or more blossoms will fit on your thumbnail. The plants are barely an inch or two high and hard to detect among old twigs, leaves, and stones. The name Turkey Pea likely comes from their tiny bulbs.

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Turkey peas are miniature members of the Parsley Family or umbellifers. The two parted stigma is maroon and surrounded by 5 white petals and maroon anthers. We observed flies and less frequently honey bees pollinating them.

Utah and Sage Buttercups are spreading their bright yellow petals–they gleam! Both species look very much the same; however,

Utah Buttercup – R. jovis has 3-parted leaves and fleshy, tuberous roots. So far I have seen these frequently under cottownwoods and in rough fields.

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Sage buttercup – R. glaberrimus – tends to have undivided leaves at least the first ones at the base.  Stem leaves may lobed.  The roots are cylindrical, not pudgy. As the name implies, it is more often found in sagebrush habitats.

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Honey bees are a pollinator to this Utah Buttercup.  Note Turkey peas in lower right. (Photo by Mary Lohuis 4.20.18.)

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Bending down low you can catch a whiff of their sweet fragrance 1-2’ off the ground. The sun warms the soil and wafts the scent to low-cruising pollinators—flies, bees, honeybees. They pick up the scent, then the color. The slight change in color in the inner part of petals is a change in the UV reflectance of “bee yellow”: the inner part is a contrasting bull’s-eye to the pollinator.

Spring BeautyClaytonia lanceolata – is beginning to appear. Two opposite leaves expand and 1 to several flowers will slowly stand up in between.   White to pinkish peals are striped pink, drawing in pollinators to open saucers of flowers serving nectar.

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YellowbellsFritillaria pudica – have been sighted! The 6 yellow tepals (3 sepals and 3 petals) dangle down forming a bell. Pollinators key into the changing of color at the base of the flower: green then reddish—indicating different stages of fertility.

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By all appearances Steer’s-heads – Dicentra uniflora – are the quintessential western spring flower with their distinctly bovine design.  The flowers serve to attract bees that can navigate the complex flowers to reach the nectar reward at the base. Bluish leaves are divided several times into rounded lobes and are toxic. Dicentra seeds are dispersed by ants.

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The Bleeding Heart (Fumatory) Family includes our ornamental bleeding hearts – Dicentra spectabilis – and our local species Golden Corydalis – Corydalis aurea – which can be seen along Game Creek in late April.

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Woody plants – With the lengthening of the days, buds begin to exude a hormone, auxin, which then spreads down woody stems stimulating cell division of the cambium—the stem tissue that encircles the stem just below the bark.  New vessels (xylem) enable water and nutrients from the roots to reach newly expanding shoots and flowers.

Typically, early spring shrubs and trees are wind pollinated. There is plenty of wind and relatively few insects about. Plants colonize open areas where there is little interference by leaves or trunks for pollen to blow from male to female flowers of the same species.

Most flowers are either male or female and come out at slightly different times or are on separate plants altogether to assure cross-fertilization—a mixing of genotypes.

AldersAlnus incana – are dangling their 2-3” long male catkins over the wetlands along Moose-Wilson Road and elsewhere. If you can get up close without getting your feet wet, you can look for the deep-maroon 1/4″ female catkins nearby on the same branch. They have scarlet stigmas which capture the pollen. You can also find last year’s tough 1” woody female “cones”. Male catkins wither away after they have released their pollen.

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AspensPopulus tremuloides – Fuzzy, silvery catkins are emerging on some trees but not others, depending on the clone. Male and female flowers are on separate trees and separate clones.  Below female catkins extend their maroon stigmas to catch the wind-dispersed pollen.

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Closely related to aspens, Cottonwood – Populus spp. – buds are bursting. Cottonwoods also have male and female plants. One can smell the distinctive odor of the balsam “oil”. The oil is popularly used as a salve and for aromatherapy.  In the photo below, male catkins are just emerging–note red anthers, also the sticky, fragrant sap on the bud scales.

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Pussy WillowsSalix spp. – Since childhood, many of us have loved pussy willows for their silky soft catkins. There are dozens of different types of pussy willows in Jackson Hole, with catkins ranging in size from ½-3” and the leaves of different sizes, shapes and textures. ID to species is very difficult, but the genus Salix is easy to determine. Buds have one covering or scale. Watch as this cap is pushed off as the catkins expand.

While I used to think willows were wind pollinated, in fact many willows are insect pollinated. The tiny scales hidden in the silvery hairs of the upright catkins have nectar glands at their base. UV light and perhaps the shiny catkin hairs attract bees and flies to this reward.  Vistors then carry pollen to a separate female plant. Look for anthers in the males  catkins (shown below) and stigmas in the females to know which gender the shrub is.

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Yellow willow stems are obvious in spring. Carotenoids produce yellow and orange hues (the same pigment that colors our carrots!).  These pigments help trap certain wavelengths to aid photosysntheis while at the same time protecting cells from harmful rays.  Willows are taking advantage of the bright unshadowed light for a jump start to growth in spring.

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April is a wonderfully subtle time of year when a few blooms count for much pleasure. I hope you can venture outside and enjoy it!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

4.22.18

As always, we appreciate any corrections.  Please email tetonplants@gmail.com

 

 

Get High for Wildflowers

Hike high for the reward of fields of flowers.  BTNF_Rendv_Subalp_Mead_flwmix_8116_N_3_Q2_5x3Wildflowers are blooming strong at elevations between 8,500-10,000,’ such as Mt. Ely, above Ski Lake, Rendezvous Mountain, and other subalpine habitats of the Grand Tetons.  You can find lupines, little sunflowers, geraniums, stonecrops, milfoil, mountain dandelions, and mountain bluebells that we observed at lower elevations a few weeks ago, along with new flowers found only at these higher elevations.

Where to Look

Topography makes a difference as to the lushness of flowers. How the mountains collected snow over the winter and how fast it has melted is determined in large part by the shape of the land, as well as its aspect: which way the slope is facing.

Steep south-facing slopes and high ridge lines have less snow to begin with and face the hot sun.  Their flowers may be past bloom or be different species, as is seen south of Mt. Ely: Wyoming Paintbrush, Sedum, Milfoils, and Harebells are still blooming.BTNF_TetPsS_DrySlp_7.28.16_5_5x3North facing, bowl-shaped terrain—Cody Bowl and the bowl above Ski Lake–captures more snow and holds it longer. Lupines and Sulphur Paintbrush grow luxuriantly.BTNF_SkiLktrUp_CastSulp_LupiArge_7.27.16_2a_fixsm Areas of recently melted snow and streams coming down the north side of Rendezvous Mountain still have Mountain Bluebells and Fernleaf Lovage.BTNF_Rendv_vwCrk_FlwMix_8116_2_Q2_5x3Jackson Hole receives little predictable rain in summer—typically from spotty, if often intense, thunderstorms–so snow in winter is the main source of moisture for the growing season.

Below are some freshly flowering species frequently seen at high elevations later in the growing season.

Blue Composites Keep on Coming

The Daisy, Aster, or Sunflower Family—technically Asteraceae—flourishes. Traditionally, this large group has been called “composites” because each “flower” is in fact a “head” of many flowers on a platform. Individual flowers may be “ray”flowers—which look like petals or the rays of sun, and/or “disk” flowers, which are small flowers usually in the center. Each flower head is surrounded by protective, usually green “bracts.” These bracts help in separating out the different genera. Below are pictures of bracts!

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Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentale – is one of many composites which attract a range of pollinators.  Here the tiny disk flowers attract bee pollinators. It flowers from bottom to top. The bracts form a green whorl around the base.

Showy composite flowers attract different pollinators. At this time of year butterflies – particularly Fritillary –  find room to land and sip nectar from the cups of disk flowers. Flies and bees also poke and prod about the flower heads. Observing pollinators adds a new dimension to understanding the ecology of flowers and insects.

Fleabanes or DaisiesErigeron spp – (people use the names interchangeably) look like asters; however, their “involucral bracts” that encompass the heads of the composite flowers are more or less even in length and are arranged in only one, maybe two, rows like a palisade fence. Often, their ray flowers are thinner and more plentiful than in asters.

Two large fleabanes/daisies are in bloom right now:

Oregon DaisyErigeron speciosus -is frequent at lower elevations and very showy now at higher elevations. They grow to 1-2.5’ high, with elliptical leaves alternating up the stem to a cluster of purple flower heads.

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Like other fleabanes, the large blue Oregon Fleabane has many petals (actually ray flowers) and many thin bracts arranged like a palisade fence protecting the many flowers of the head.

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Oregon Daisy or Fleabane has many blue or lavender ray flowers and a large center of yellow disk flowers.

Subalpine DaisyErigeron peregrinus – is a bit smaller than Oregon Daisy and is limited to higher elevations. It also has many oval to elliptical leaves up the stem, but the lavender ray flowers are broader and fewer than in Oregon Daisy.

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Single heads with broad blue ray flowers are typical of Subalpine Daisy – Erigeron peregrinus.

Another look-alike, Alpine Leafy-bract AsterSymphiotrichum foliaceum – has a similar color and many relatively broad ray flowers. However, looking at the bracts beneath, you will see they are green and leafy looking. As the name indicates, these are also typically at high elevations.

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In Alpine Leafy-bract Aster the bracts are loose, leaf-like shingles encircling the head.

Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolius – is about the same size as those species above. The thick, slightly zigzag stems are sticky hairy all the way up to the flower heads. Flowers have a few deep-violet ray flowers. The sticky bracts splay outwards. They grow at higher and lower elevations in meadows.

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The stems of Thickstem Aster are not only thick, but also sticky.

Englemann (Chaffy) AsterEucephalus engelmannii – stands tall to 3-4’. Unbranching stems are clad in large elliptical leaves alternating up the stem, with showy sprays of white flower heads near the top. White ray flowers are relatively long and few compared to daisy fleabanes. Look under the flower heads at the arrangement of bracts: they look like pointed shingles on a roof—one easy way to distinguish asters from fleabane daisies.

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Engelmann Aster stands tall on single stems with a few white flowers at the top. They can form large colonies in some areas.

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The shingled or “imbricate” bracts of Englemann Chaffy Aster – Eucephalus spp. – help separate it from Erigerons or fleabane daisies.  The rounded bracts are in several rows that overlap.

Nuttall AsterEucephalus elegans – is shorter than its cousin, but it too has the shingled effect of the bracts. The flowers are a lovely violet blue. This species is just coming into bloom and more sporadic in its appearance.

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Nuttall AsterEucephalus elegans –  has truly elegant bracts.

A third species Blue-leaf AsterEucephalus glaucus – has distinctly bluish leaves and grows in 1-2’ tall sprawling, rhizomatous patches. Flowers are light lavender.

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Blue-leaf Aster has a ghostly appearance.

Spiny-bracted Aster/Hoary Tansy AsterMachaeranthera canescens – grows on much drier slopes, such as along Teton Pass. Rarely a foot tall, the plants have relatively few stems,  with few leaves. The violet flowers catch the eye. Look for the spine-tipped, outward-arching bracts surrounding the flower head.

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Spiny AsterMachaeranthera canescens – grows sparsely along the trail south of Teton Pass.

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The bracts around this violet head point outward and are sharp, giving Spiny Aster its name.

A Few Yellow Composites

Thickstem GroundselSenecio crassulus – is adapted to a variety of moist to dry meadows, varying its height according to level of moisture – taller to 3’ with more water, or stunted at 8” or less. The slightly succulent, elliptical leaves may be toothed. The lower ones are stalked, the upper sessile. The shiny green bracts are neatly aligned in one row and are black tipped. A few ray flowers surround the yellow disk flowers.

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Thickstem Groundsel varies in height depending on underlying moisture.  Leaves are sessile to clasping the stem and toothed.

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Groundsels have a single row of even-sized bracts surrounding the flower heads, often with black tips. This is Thick-leaved Groundsel.  Note the disk flowers are in full bloom.  You can see the  female stigmas arching outward.

Low GoldenrodSolidago multiradiata – is common in rock edges and along trails at many elevations. The tiny flower heads have about 13 ray flowers each and the heads are held in clusters mostly near the top of 6-12″ stems. To distinguish this species from look-alikes, find the ciliate – stiff hairy – margins to the elongate leaves at the base of the plants.

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Low Goldenrod has about 13 tiny yellow ray flowers per head. Flowers heads are clustered together.

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The lower leaves of Low Goldenrod have stiff hairs on their petioles, which is very helpful in identification.

Paintbrush Complex

BTNF_SkiLktr_Cast_flwrmix_7.27.16_1_5x3Q2Paintbrushes are intriguing and confusing members of the Orobanche or Broomrape Family (formerly placed the Figwort or Schropulariaceae Family).  Species in the genus Castilleja have unique attachments to other plant species, depending more or less on their hosts for extra carbon, water, nutrients and even chemical defenses. As such, they are termed hemiparasites.  They can survive on their own but grow larger, produce more flowers and seeds, and have less predation if they attach to their host’s roots using special haustorium.  Plant hosts include grasses, sagebrush, lupines, and larkspurs.

Paintbrushes have wide variation in color and shape due to polyploidy and hybridization. For identification pay attention to the shape of the leaves and shape and color of bracts–colored leaf-like appendages below each flower. In paintbrushes, sepals are fused to form a lobed tube and are colorful like the bracts.  The petals are relatively inconspicuous. They are fused to form a tube called a galea which hides and protects the stamens and stigma within.

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Paintbrush flowers have a colorful bract (shown to right) under each flower. Each flower (center) has a colorful calyx tube which is lobed. It surrounds the galea = tube of fused petals. The stigma and anthers are protected inside. Here the stigma sticks out from the top of the green and red galea.

Here are four species you can see up high right now. Hopefully the description and the photos will help you distinguish to species—never easy.  Once identified you can find more information on their hosts and their predators.

Wyoming Indian PaintbrushCastilleja liniarifolia – is the most angular of the species we see right now. Its bright red to orange calyx splits to the side and back but most deeply in front where the green galea extends way out. The bracts and leaves are also often deeply lobed and linear and widely spaced on the stem.

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The state flower Wyoming PaintbrushCastilleja liniariifolia – is found on dry slopes at all altitudes. It has a lean appearance to the plant, leaves, and flowers.  They obtain up to 40% of their carbon from their host plant Big Sagebrush – Artemesia tridentata.

Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – is blooming at mid to subalpine elevations. It is common along the trail south of Teton Pass right now. It is often two feet tall and branching with wands of bright red flowers. The bracts and calyx are often lobed and sharply pointed. They cover the green corolla or petal tube (galea) which extends out when mature. Overall flower color ranges from red to scarlet to orange. This is our most wide ranging and variable species. Polyploidy and occasional hybridization with C. rhexifolia and C. sulphurea confound strict identification.

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Scarlet Paintbrushes come in a range of colors. Most are tall and often branching.

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Tricky to ID due to hybridization and genetic polyploidy, this photo of Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – shows the bracts with sharp pointed lobes as well as a relatively sharply lobed, fused calyx. The green galea protrudes revealing the stigma.  Research has shown that all  parts of the plant and flower except the galea and nectar have poisonous alkaloids when connected to its host Lupine –  Lupinus argenteus.  The alkaloids deter herbivory.

Alpine or Rosy PaintbrushCastilleja rhexifolia – puzzles me often, especially in comparison to Scarlet Paintbrush. References say they are crimson, rose-red to pink. Bracts are relatively broad and rarely lobed.  Calyx lobes are relatively blunt. Often the parts are quite hairy. Plants are typically about one foot or less and rarely branch. They grow only at high elevations.

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Rosy Paintbrush – Castilleja rhexifolia – has relatively broad bracts, often hairy, and the lobes of the calyx are blunt. They are host plants for an elegant looking plume moth – Amblytidia pica  – look it up!

Sulphur PaintbrushCastilleja sulphurea – Although yellow, this species is very similar and closely related to Rosy Paintbrush – C. rhexifolia. Look for broad, only slightly lobed, colorful bracts. The bracts and calyx lobes are rounded, not sharp. It is also sticky hairy. Look for larkspurs and lupines nearby. Sulphur paintbrushes are often connected, obtaining carbohydrates and alkaloids from their hosts.

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Sulphur Paintbrush is similar in flower form to C. rhexifolia with wider bracts and rounded lobes.  It grows at high elevations as well. They can hybridize.

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Sulphur Paintbrush can have many stems. It is a hemiparasite on Tall Larkspur – Delphinium occidentale – and Lupine.

Hosts Plants of Paintbrushes

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Silvery Lupine – Lupine argenteus var. depressus – above Ski Lake serves as a host plant to a hybrid paintbrush.

LupineLupinus argenteus – is a proven host plant of several species of paintbrush. Lupine is a source of carbon, water, and nutrients.  It also provides a toxic alkaloid which helps protect the paintbrush from herbivory, such as from larvae of the plume moth – Amblyptilia pica. This chemical defense in not found in the petals or nectar of paintbrushes, therefore,  allowing their pollinators, such as broad tailed and rufous hummingbirds to proceed unharmed.

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Tall Larkspur – Delphinium occidentale – is a host plant for Sulphur Paintbrush.

Two Creamy, Coiled Louseworts

Louseworts are also in the Orobanche or Broomrape Family.  They have highly evolved flowers. Bumblebees pollinators  just fit amidst the lower lip and upper coil. The stigma, protected by the upper petal, sticks out when ready and tags the pollen from where the bees can’t glean it. Flowers contain no nectar reward.

Louseworts, like their relatives paintbrushes, also have hemiparasitic relationships with nearby host plants.

Parrot’s BeakPedicularis racemosa – grows 8-20” high. The leaves are lance-shaped with small teeth and are arrayed up the stem. The lower lip of the flowers is three lobed, and the upper lip is arched into a beak.

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Parrot’s Beak has evolved to fit their pollinators perfectly:  Bumblebees  This coiled flower is designed to wrap around the bee and tag the pollen on its back.  Looks a bit like an elephant trunk!

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Parrot’s Beak has linear, finely toothed leaves. At high elevations leaves can be reddish.  Pedicularis racemosa  has been discovered to be an alternate host to white pine blister rust, a non-native fungus devastating 5-needled pines such as White-bark and Limber pines.  Parrot’s Beak is a hemiparasite on lupines.

White-coiled Lousewort – Pedicularis contorta – looks very similar to Parrot’s Beak but the leaves grow mostly from the base and are deeply, pinnately lobed.

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White-coiled Lousewort is a higher elevation species with leaves mostly near the base.

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Leaves of White-coiled Lousewort are pinnately divided or lobed.

A Few More Subalpine Specialties

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Splashes of lavender purple on subalpine meadow hillsides are likely Western SweetvetchHedysarum occidentale. Look for the pea-like flowers, and later dangling flattened pea pods or loments.

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Related to phlox, Nuttall’s Gilia – Leptosiphon nutallii – forms soft mounds on rocky slopes. The leaves are almost needle-like and form whorls on the stem. Flowers are fading on Teton Pass but still flowering on Rendezvous Mountain.

Found often in shade or meadows where snow melts late at high elevations, Mountain Bog GentianGentiana calycosa – is a treat to find. Leaves are egg-shaped and paired up the 5-12” stems. Flowers are deep blue and are decorated to direct pollinators deep.

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Mountain Bog Gentians appear out of rocks and shady moist crevices in subalpine zones.

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Mountain Bog Gentian has spots and lines to lure insects deep inside.

Many other flowers are blooming high.  Go in search! Let us know what you find at tetonplants@gmail.com.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

July 31, 2016, update Aug. 2 after hiking down from Rendezvous Mountain via Granite Canyon.

Note: What we once called “asters” and were in the Aster genus have been sorted by scientists into many new genera: Eucephalus, Eurybia, Symphiotrichum, Oreostemma, etc. However, the common name of “aster” remains attached to many.  Indeed “Aster” is much easier to remember than the new scientific names.  If you are frustrated by all this, just enjoy looking at the remarkable, if confounding, variation of this group of composites.

 

 

More flowers blooming in Jackson Hole early July 2016

Flowers keep unfurling this Fourth of July week. Here is a quick post ofTNP_GrCanTr_Asp_BJM_7.3.16_1a_Q1_5x3 wildflowers you may see hiking or driving throughout Jackson Hole. Enjoy skimming through the photos for their names. And if you have a moment, read the captions to find out a quick fact you can share with a friend.

Sunny dry habitats, such as sage flats and south facing slopes:

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Silky LupineLupinus sericeus – has fine silvery hairs covering most of the 2’-2.5’ plants.

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Both sides of the “palmate” leaves and the back of the “banners” of the blue pea-like flowers are silky —good identification features. Hairs on plants help keep plants from drying out in hot, open spaces: they reflect back the sun and shade the leaf surface, cut the velocity of drying winds, and reduce abrasion by wind-swept soil particles. These hairy adaptations are found in many desert and alpine plants, too.

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Scarlet Gilia – Ipomopsis aggregata –is blooming strong. The 1-3’ stems wave in the wind like red wands. The red, 1”, trumpet-shaped flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted by the red color (most insects can’t see red) and hover as they insert their long beaks and even longer tongues down into the tough flower tube. While the hummingbird is lapping (not sipping) high-test nectar, it gets doused by pollen, which it distributes to the next flower if the sticky female stigma is stretched out to collect it from the hummingbird’s forehead.

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Growing only a few inches high, Lance-leaved StonecropSedum lanceolatum – is related to hens and chicks, popular garden and house plants. The pudgy leaves are succulent, designed to hold water in reserve in dry conditions. If knocked off the plant, the leaves can grow roots and start whole new plants, which is one way stonecrops can move around the neighborhood.

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If pollinated, the bright yellow, star-shaped flowers of Lance-leaved Stonecrops form seeds, which is the other way plants can get out of the shadow of their parents.

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Sulphur BuckwheatEriogonum umbellatum var. majus – has umbels of creamy yellow flowers often with a blush of pink held above a whorl of leaves.  Below the 12″ stems, small oval leaves and creeping stems form large mats upon the ground, out of the wind.

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In mostly dry locations, delicate clumps of Ballhead SandwortEremogone congesta – are scattered among more robust plants.  ‘Congesta’ in the botanical name refers to several small white flowers grouped tightly together in a head at the top of each wiry stem.

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Sandwort is in the same family as florist carnations and garden pinks, sporting opposite needle-like leaves joined together in a bit of a bump on the stem.

 Three blues: Stickseed, Bluebells, Flax

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Jessica Stickseeds grow to 3’, have several 3-6” leaves around the base and up the stem, and are found in a variety of habitats with a bit of moisture.

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Jessica Stickseed flowers look similar to “For-get-me-nots” – Myosotis –  with 5 sky-blue peals in a pinwheel around a “yellow eye”.

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However, the four nutlets (fruits) have 2-barbed prickles which will stick to you—you become the vector for its seed dispersal–hence the name Stickseed.

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Mountain BluebellsMertensia ciliata – are in the same family as the Stickseeds (Borage Family) and have a similar sky-blue color. The 5 petals form a  tube and flowers dangle together at the tips of 2-3’ stems. Plants grow along stream edges and in wet meadows.

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Pollinators zero in on individual blue flowers, where they hang or hover while reaching into the tube for nectar. Watch the color changes of the flowers as they ripen and then fade in the course of pollination and for what insects show up!

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Lewis’ FlaxLinum lewisii – named after Merriweather Lewis the explorer, is common along roadsides and in meadows. Each saucer-shaped flower appears to reflect the sky. Many kinds of insects can land and pollinate the flowers. Each flower lasts only a day.

Particularly showy and popular: Paintbrushes, Cinquefoils, Penstemons

BTNF_TetonPs_Send9_Cast_63015_1Found in a variety of habitats, Paintbrushes – Castilleja spp. – come in different colors and shapes. They hybridize, thereby forming intermediates, making ID difficult. Paintbrush flowers are complicated: most color comes from bracts and sepals, not from petals which are often green. Bracts are modified leaves found just below each flower. Each flower has 2-4 sepals fused together. The petals form a long tube with a lip, and are often hidden inside the bracts and sepals until the flower is in full bloom. This “galea” protects the anthers and stigma until pollination.

Here are a two common paintbrushes which are relatively easy to ID.

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The state flower – Wyoming Indian PaintbrushCastilleja liniarifolia – stands out.  The green petals form a narrow tube beyond which extends the stigma (seen here on the right). This tube or  “galea” arches beyond the bright red sepals and flaring red bracts.  Red elongate flowers appeal to hummingbird pollinators. Stem leaves are dissected into 2-3 narrow segments. Plants can be 2-3’ tall.

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Mostly mingling in meadows, Scarlet Indian PaintbrushesCastilleja miniata – are usually red but range into orange. Green and red bracts are broad and pointed.  Sepals are red, pointed, and fused, concealing the green tubes (“galea”) of petals until fully mature. This species is found at lower elevations, such as along Moose-Wilson Road, than the look-alike C. rhexifolia which is subalpine.

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Potentilla or Cinquefoil flowers are 5-petalled with many anthers circling a cone of many pistils. White Cinquefoil – Potentilla arguta – is the most commonly seen species at this time and has mostly yellow, not white, flowers. For precise ID (using a hand lens helps!), one counts up to 25 anthers, notes the roughly marked stigmas on smooth ovaries forming a slight cone in the center, and sees several flowers held tightly together on sticky stems.  They look very similar to Sticky Cinquefoil  – P. glandulosa – which holds its flowers a bit more broadly.  Some plant experts say both should be the same species.

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The leaves of this cinquefoil are “pinnately” divided into 7-9 coarsely toothed leaflets.

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Graceful CinquefoilPotentilla gracilis – is common along trails, leaning out and shining up at you.

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BeardtonguesPenstemon spp. – are fascinating puzzles. Most have opposite oval to elongate leaves going up the stem. The lower 3 petals form a landing pad and all 5 petals fuse together to form a tunnel sized for specific pollinators. The name “Penstemon” refers to the false fifth stamen- staminode – which lies like a tongue (say ahh!)  at the base of the flower and is often hairy or “bearded”. There are 4 true stamens, each with two divergent anther sacs, which curve over the bodies of pollinators—bumble bees in this instance.

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Right now at least four beardstongues stand out in patches along roadsides or on dry slopes. One representative is Wasatch PenstemonP. cyananthus – seen hiking south from Teton Pass.

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Another common species is Smooth PenstemonP. subglaber – 3’ wands of blue, often found along roadsides in gravelly soils.

Two sizable plants of meadows and aspen groves: Giant Hyssop and Little SunflowersBTNF_PalmC_AgasUrti_fl_7415_2_5x3

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Looking closely at Nettle-leaf Giant HyssopAgastache urticifolia – you can see the “irregular” whitish flowers (with five fused petals ) with long anthers sticking out. The surrounding pointed sepals are pinkish. The egg-shaped, toothed leaves are aromatic and sit opposite one another, each pair set at 90-degree angles from the one below. The 2-4’ stems are square. These are characteristics of the Mint Family.

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One-flower Little SunflowersHelianthella uniflora – are big bright spots on dry slopes and ridge lines. This species usually has 1-3 flowers per stem and only 3 veins on its leaves.

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The more robust Five-nerved HelianthellaHelianthella quinquenervis – appears to stare right at you! The large lower leaves have 5 distinct nerves and the 4-5′ plants usually have only one big 3-4” flower per stem.

 Particularly impressive: Monument Plant, Cow Parsnip, Elk Thistle 

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This is a great year for Monument Plants or Green GentiansFrasera speciosa. Once upon a time, botanists thought these plants grew like biennials or short-lived perennials in the garden…a rosette of leaves one year, a tall stalk of flowers a year or two later. However, a long-time researcher in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado determined that these plants don’t in fact flower until they are 40 to even 60 years old!

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This stage of growth–a rosette of leaves–can last dozens of years before Green Gentian or Monument Plant shoots up its flower stalk.

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With a fresh rosette of leaves each year, Green Gentian continually stores energy into its deep tap root until it has sufficient fuel for its final, tremendous act. Flowers buds are triggered four years before the spring when each stalk stretches up to 4-5’, arrayed with dozens, even hundreds, of flowers.

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Once pollinated by myriad insects, the plants form fruits which split open to scatter thousands of seeds.  The plant then dies. Snow depth appears to be the stimulus for flower bud set for the individuals old enough to bloom. Consequently, plants bloom in cohorts, overwhelming the ability of predators to eat all the seeds.

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Flowers of Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium – unfurl from huge buds into dinner-plate sized umbels of tiny flowers.   How did all that stuff fit into one bud?

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Cow Parsnip grows under aspens and in moist meadows where there is enough water to supply the very large leaves on 4-6’ plants. It is the largest member of the Parsley Family here in Jackson Hole.

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Elk ThistleCirsium scariosum – is almost as impressive as the two large plants above. The first year, it forms a flat rosette of leaves which store energy into the tap root before the winter. The second year a 1-3’-tall, thick stalk arises with elegant elongate, spine-tipped leaves. The plants are covered in fine cobwebby hairs. The large flower heads are nested in the top.  Elk Thistle is a native thistle which supports a diversity of insects and is indeed eaten by elk and should be treated with respect.

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Teton County Weed and Pest is targeting this monstrous alien Musk ThistleCarduus nutans – before it overwhelms pastures, hayfields, and meadows.  Let them know if you have these scarey plants on your land.

Surprises: Cactus and Sego Lily

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Flowering in a small rocky cleft across from Kelly Warm Springs is Brittle Prickly Pear CactusOpuntia fragilis. The waxy, thickened stems contain chlorophyll to manufacture food and to hold extra water. Spines are actually modified leaves, which help shade the plant and provide defense. The spines coupled with fragile stem joints help spread the plants vegetatively—they attach to your shoes or worse your flesh. Do not touch!

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Along Old Pass Road, we spied a Sego LilyCalochortus nuttallii – an elegant flower which grows from a bulb in dry locations. Sego Lily was voted by school children as the state flower of Utah in 1911. Between 1840-1851 Mormon settlers dug and ate the soft bulbs when the plague of crickets ravaged crops.

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At another location near Bryan Flats, we spied White Mariposa LilyCalochortus eurycarpus – with elegant goblet-like flowers which attract a variety of insects including bees, wasps, bee-flies and several kinds of beetles. One can imagine quite a pollinator party!

 

Please, enjoy these beautiful days looking at wildflowers up close.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

Julyl 4, 2016

Forests and Meadows Flower Late June

BTNF_Mung_AspenMead_6.14.16_1_5x3.jpgThe number of fresh flowers is overwhelming hiking up Old Pass Road, Ski Lake, Munger Mountain and other trails with aspen groves and coniferous forests intermingle with meadows. The range of sun and shade, moisture and soils provides opportunities for a diversity of wildflowers to find their niche. Some plants are generalists, others are specific in their growing needs. All have evolved pollination techniques which are fascinating to observe and underground connections which we can only imagine.

Connections above and below ground:

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Sticky Geranium – Geranium viscosissimum – is wide open to pollinators.  The nectar guides lead to a central column of anthers and pistil.

Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is common everywhere right now. The saucer-shaped flowers formed by 5 petals are wide open to a variety of pollinators. Look closely at the nectar guides that lead to a central column comprised 0f anthers and stigmas. These male and female parts mature at different times to avoid self-pollination. Petal color varies from almost blue to deep pink, to almost white. All parts of the plant have sticky “glandular hairs” which present a gooey forest defense for tiny crawling predators.

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Richardson’s GeraniumGeranium richardsonii – looks very similar to Sticky Geranium but is white and grows in moist sites.

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Both species have sticky hairs that serve as a gooey forest of defense against tiny invaders.  The hairs of Richardson’s Geranium are purple-tipped.

Lupines are lurking…quite obviously…under conifer trees—lodgepole pines at Signal Mountain, Douglas firs along Ski Lake Trail. The “palmately” divided leaves and the pea-like flowers (later pods) are two definitive ID features for lupines, overall.

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Silvery LupineLupinus argenteus – is found most frequently in forests vs. Silky Lupines are found commonly in sageflats. Lupines can grow in, and even improve, low nutrient soils.

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Silvery Lupine flowers look like miniature garden pea flowers. The banner which folds back at the top is smooth. The two side petals–the wings–hide the two “keel” petals inside. Within are 10 anthers and one pistil.  The pistil will become a pod.

Silvery Lupine flowers have smooth backs to their banners. The banners are held at a <45 degree angle to the wings and keel. Insects land on the “wings”, and while pushing into the center of the flower for pollen, the “keel” drops, revealing anthers which press pollen onto the insect’s belly. On the next flower visit, the stigma may tap pollen off the bee’s belly. Seeds will form inside a growing pod…like peas in a pod.

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Root nodules form in legumes, including lupines. They harbor bacteria which fix nitrogen from the air, passing it on to plants for growth. Photo: wiki commons

All plants need nitrogen. Gardeners add nitrogen to flower beds and lawns. For centuries, farmers have grown alfalfa, clover, beans, and other legumes to improve conditions for crops. Lupines, like many legumes, form nodules in their roots to protect nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The bacteria have a safe haven to “fix” nitrogen from the air (N2), which is plentiful in soil pores, and convert it into a form usable and essential for plant growth (NH3). Dying lupines, in turn, add nitrogen to the soil in a form that all other plants can use. Thus, lupines are beneficial to our forests and sagebrush lands.

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The 3-4′ tall stalks of Fernleaf Lousewort or Wood BetonyPedicularis bracteosa – is growing in shady aspen groves.

Fernleaf LousewortPedicularis bracteosa – stands up tall in aspen groves and shady meadows. The leaves are large and finely dissected. Pale yellow flowers spiral up 3’ stalks.

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Flowers of louseworts are designed to fit specialized pollinators. Here you can see the stigma poised to tap pollen off the back of a visiting bee as the bee searches for nectar deep within the flower.

Louseworts have a variety of pollination strategies: the flowers of each species have evolved to fit specific pollinators. The lower petals are fused to serve as landing pads, and the upper petals shield the male anthers and female stigma. When the right-sized bumblebee comes in for a landing, the anthers will deposit pollen. On another visit, the stigma will stick out and relieve the bee of its burden.

Another point of interest: Fernleaf Lousewort parasitizes Engelmann Spruce for certain compounds: pinidinol, specifically. Why? Who knows?

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Fern-leaf LovageLigusticum filicinum – is beginning to flower. Note the large delicate leaves and umbels of white flowers.

Another tall wildflower bearing lacy large leaves is Fern-leaf LovageLigusticum filicinum, of the Parsley Family.   It is beginning to bloom in aspens groves near Munger Mountain and in meadows by Two-Ocean Lake. Umbels (remember umbrella ribs) of tiny white flowers are spreading high and wide.

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Many insects step from flower to flower in Fern-leaf Lovage, which collectively give perches and treats to all sizes of flies, beetles, and bees. Look for shiny rings of nectaries below the two stigmas–the reward the insects are looking for.

The highly pungent and flavored root of this plant is called Osha in herbal medicine and was used by many groups of Native Americans for infections.

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Osha root is very pungent and powerful. It has been used for generations of native peoples for medicine.

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Westerm SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has tiny yellow-green flowers in umbels, and a divided leaf.

Also in the Parsley Family, Western SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has similar features to Ligusticum. The flowers are in umbels and the leaves are divided—looking a bit like parsley leaves.

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Sticky Geranium – Geranium viscosissimum – is wide open to pollinators.  The nectar guides lead to a central column of anthers and pistil.

Already, plants are forming elongated ½” fruits which have a licorice flavor.  Plants create  chemicals for defense (toxins) or attractants (perfumes). While many Parsley Family species are tasty and beneficial to us, others are deadly, such as Water HemlockCircuta maculata.

Two Opposite Pollination Strategies:

Two members of the Buttercup Family are flowering now in forests. One is spectacular, the other easily overlooked. These two family members have evolved very different strategies for survival.

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Western MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale – is a delicate looking plant in shady forests. This plant is in full (male) flower.

Western MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale – is wind pollinated. As with many wind-pollinated plants, the flowers are almost invisible to us. Wind doesn’t see, so the plant does not provide a showy display, as it would if it were insect pollinated. Male pollen grains need to land on female pistils to make fruits and seeds. Preferably the pollen comes from a genetically different plant for long-term diversity and adaptation of the species.

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Dangling male flowers of Western Meadowrue scatter pollen grains upon the wind.

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Pink stigmas of female flowers of Western Meadowrue – stretch wide to catch pollen grains.

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Fruits of Western Meadowrue.

To assure cross-pollination, in this species male flowers are on separate plants from the females. Look for many anthers dangling out in the wind. Nearby, hopefully, are female plants with flowers with stigmas reaching wide to catch the wind-scattered “balls” of pollen. With luck, and it is luck!—the male pollen is caught by feathery female stigmas and fruits and seeds can form.

Surprisingly found in the same family, the very showy  Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea – is found in moist shade where its white petals and sepals stand out.

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Columbines have five flaring white sepals, 5 petals that form “spurs” with nectar at the bulbous ends, many anthers, and 5 pistils. This is Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea.

Vashti Sphinx Moths (left image – from Wikipedia Commons) are  specialist, nectar-seeking pollinators of Colorado Columbines. Nectar is held deep in the petal spurs, which only this species can reach: the moth hovers and uncurls and extends its proboscis inside to the sweet energy reward at the end.  Research has shown that Sphinx vashti visits columbine populations with longer spurs than populations visited  by White-lined Sphinx moths or Hummingbird Moths – Hyles lineata (right image – from Wikipedia). Furthermore, blue variations of Colorado columbine with shorter spurs are associated with bumble bees seeking pollen as well as nectar. Both flowers and pollinators are specialized with in the same plant species.

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Mountain SnowberrySymphiocarpus oreophilus – is the host plant for caterpillars of Vashti Sphinx Moths which pollinate Colorado Columbines. The shrub is in flower now.

A Big Year for Tiny Orchids

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Many people have reported seeing Coralroot and Calypso Orchids this spring. A few have come upon Twayblades. Orchids comprise the largest family of plants in the world. Researchers are exploring how specialized pollinators and mychorrizal relationships may be driving species diversification, but overall little is known about these plants, including the species here in Jackson.

All CoralrootsCorallorhiza spp. – are dependent on association with fungi for survival, as they do not have any chlorophyll. Their knobly, twisted rhizomes (underground stems) are connected to mycelia threads of gilled Russula mushrooms, which are in turn connected to nearby trees that provide carbohydrates. Coralroot stems are reddish to yellow (never green) and do not have leaves.  Flowers are small with variable markings, depending on species and varieties.

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Spotted CoralrootCorallorhiza maculata – is variable in its decoration. However 2 lobes on either side of the base of the lowest petal (lip) and a bump (spur) under the throat of flower help in ID. All-yellow forms with white lips are also present–some say these are albino forms.  None have chlorophyll.

Very little is known about coralroot pollinators—maybe bees?—which visit the flowers, expecting a “reward” of nectar or pollen.  In any case, the pollinators leave duped and carry only a load of a pollinia (sac with thousands of pollen grains) which it cannot reach.

If the pollinator is fooled again, the next flower will receive the pollinia and can produce thousands of very fine, dust like seeds. Spread by wind, the tiny seeds depend on the right species of fungus to be in the soil where they land. It’s amazing to see any orchids at all!

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Striped CoralrootCorallorhiza striata. The striped petals direct hapless pollinators down a dead end. In exploring for a reward of nectar, the pollinator presses upon the yellow wad of pollinia on the end of the “column”, which sticks to its back.  However, there is no nectar!  If  it is fooled again, it visits another flower where the pollinia sticks to a perfectly sized stigma.

Two other Coralroots: C. mertensiana and C. wisteriana can be discovered in conifer forests as well. Details of differences include design of stripes and spots, length and shape of petals, and bumps on the inferior ovaries.  Insects can tell the difference in species, even if it hard for us to do so.

Calypso Orchid or Fairy SlipperCalypso bulbosa – is one of a kind. There are no other species in the genus. Young queen bumblebees are attracted to the fragrant, elegant flowers. However, they do not receive any reward for their time and soon learn (yes, insects learn) not to visit this species again. However, if a queen does visit another flower, she delivers a wad of pollen which can stimulate thousands of seeds in the single fruit capsule. The plant has been pollinated without its expending any extra resources on nectar.

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Calypso OrchidCalypso bulbosa – is alluring to inexperienced bumblebee queens. However, after a visit or two, they learn there is no reward for them and cease to visit.

The paired green leaves of twayblades (Neottia/Listera spp.) indicate that this genus can manufacture its own food. Four species of twayblades are listed in Teton County. These photos are of Western Twayblade – now called Neotiia banksiana, formerly Listera caurina, It is found in the northwest but is listed only in Teton County for Wyoming.

While all our wildflowers deserve protection, please never pick an orchid…their existence is precarious enough.

While hiking, ponder the remarkable life passing by your boots. Take a moment to look closely at the unfurling flowers and developing fruits and seeds. What pollinators are flying and crawling about? What micro-organisms are living in the soil that provide us with such colorful displays above? Enjoy the questions, even if we don’t know the answers, yet.

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Aspen grove along Cole Creek Trail, Bridger Teton National Forest.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

June 28, 2016

P.S. Watch out for Stinging Nettles – Urtica dioica – along the trail. Plants can be 4′ tall and have opposite, egg-shaped, 3-4″ toothed leaves.  Flowers are tiny and male and females are on different plants.  Transparent needle-like hairs on stem and leaves are filled with liquid. When brushed, the tip of the hair breaks open and ejects a liquid that stings like a red ant bite. Ouch!

 

Jackson Hole Flowers in Early June

With unseasonably high temperatures this past week, spring flowers are developing fruits and summer flowers are blooming strong throughout the southern end of Jackson Hole. These same species will have encores over the next week or so in the northern valley and into Yellowstone National Park.

Here are some of the most common and obvious wildflowers blooming in sagebrush dominated flats and hillsides.  We hope you will enjoy learning some plant names and how flowers are designed to attract pollinators. Enjoy the amazing diversity and beauty of plants.

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Yellow composites:

Arrow-leaf BalsamrootBalsamorhiza sagittata – is the big showy “composite” seen on hillsides and sageflats right now.  The large flower heads illustrate the typical features of the Aster or Sunflower Family.  This is one of the largest flower families in the word with 1000s of intriguing variations which have evolved for success.

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A cross-section of a Arrow-leaf Balsamroot flower head.

Around the outside of the so-called flower head, bright yellow “petals” are actually individual “ray” flowers with five fused petals flattened to one side. The “disc” flowers in the center are tiny flowers with 5 connected yellowish petals forming a flared tube.  Above each, a dark column of anthers wraps around an emerging stigma which arches into two parts, ready to capture pollen from visiting pollinators. (Note the outer disc flowers are in full bloom, the inner are still in bud.)  Hairy, silvery bracts surround the flat platform or “receptacle” holding the many individual flowers. (If this is too much information, just have fun looking closely!)

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Arrow-leaf Balsamroot has one flower head on each 1.5’ stem. The large leaves are arrow-shaped with silvery hairs and arise from the base of the plant.

Don’t confuse Balsamroot with the soon-to-flower Mule’s EarsWyethia amplexicaulis.

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Mule’s Ears have large, deep yellow flowers with smooth bracts, and 12-18″ oval, deep green leaves which can grow along the stems. They grow in heavier soils than Balsamroot.

Western GroundselSenecio integerrimus – has several yellow flower heads with both ray and disc flowers on single stems. The plants usually grow to 8-12”.   SeneInte_habfl_RKO_5.28.16_2_3x5

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In Groundsels, bracts are all the same length – like a palisade fence – and are black tipped.

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Along with these other features, cobwebby hairs on leaves and stem provide definitive ID of Western Groundsel.

At first glance, three other composites look like Common DandelionsTaraxacum officinale. They grow about 6-8” (or more) tall and have showy yellow heads with only ray or “ligulate” flowers. Look closely at bracts, number of flower heads, and the location and shape of leaves.

The fruits are very helpful in understanding why the taxonomists separate these genera. However, we have to wait until they ripen.  Practice by looking at dandelion fluff and fruits.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Common Dandelion has all “ligulate” or “ray” flowers. Notice the leaves are all at the base (basal).

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Note the two rows of bracts in Dandelions: bracts of the outer row fold down, those of the inner row are upright. Bracts are very helpful clues in ID of look-alike composite flowers.

False DandelionAgoseris glauca – also has only one head per plant. The bracts are variable. Leaves are all at the base or “basal.” Three varieties with different leaves and hairiness to the bracts are a challenge to botanists.

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Mountain DandelionAgoseris glauca – looks very much like a dandelion, but look closely….

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Mountain Dandelions have tidy, upward pointing bracts around each flower head. Some bracts can be hairy or smooth, depending on variety. Leaves vary, too.

Nodding Microseris Microseris nutans – is very similar to the above, but again look closely: there is often more than one flower per stem or plant and buds typically nod. Leaves are mostly basal, but one or two may attach to the stem, as well.

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 Observe how  Nodding Microseris differs from the other species. Note the nodding buds.

Coming into bloom are several species of HawksbeardCrepis sp.

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HawksbeardsCrepis sp. – are robust plants found in sageflats. The leaves bunch at the base but also grow up the branching 8-16” stems. The leaves are often sword shaped and variably pinnately toothed, lobed, or dissected.

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In Hawksbeards, the number of flower heads varies, as does the number of individual ray flowers per head. Some species have stiff hairs,which can be black. All these features are used for ID the 3-4 species common in Jackson Hole.

Don’t miss the blues:

Low or Nuttall’s LarkspurDelphinium nuttallianum – has been blooming for a while. It attracts queen bumble bees, solitary bees, and in some places hummingbirds as pollinators.

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Nuttall’s Larkspur is still blooming strong.

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Larkspur flowers are intriguing: 5 deep blue-purple sepals flare out at the sides. The upper sepal forms a long tube behind called a “spur.” Four petals are designed to guide the pollinator into the center of the plant. The two white upper petals are stiff and sport blue “nectar guides.” Each of these petals extends back into the sepal spur and holds nectar as a reward for savvy pollinators. The lower two hairy blue petals flop down, shielding the anthers while also providing landing pads for insect pollinators.

At the right time, anthers shed pollen upon pushy pollinators. The pollinators, after a drink of nectar, fly off to a similar flower and with luck (for the plant) knocks the transported pollen onto the three receptive stigmas. Pollination and, hopefully, the formation of seeds has begun!

Mountain BluebellsMertensia viridis/oblongifolia – often grow on grassy slopes and amidst sage plants. Pollinators – bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds – are attracted at first to the curved bunch of pink and blue flowers.

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Pollinators zero in on individual blue flowers, where they hang or hover while reaching down the tube for nectar. Watch the color changes of the flowers as they ripen and then fade in the course of pollination and for what insects show up!

Long-leaved PhloxPhlox longifolia – grows taller and looser than earlier blooming white phloxes which are mat forming, such as Hood’s and Many-flowered Phloxes.

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Flowers of Long-leaved Phlox range in color from white to pink to bluish. The are often 4-6″ tall with 1″ leaves.

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A beguiling fragrance attracts small flies, bee flies, and butterflies to the bluish to pinkish 5-petaled flowers. Only the insects with just the right length mouthparts can reach down the long tube to nectar deep within. Coincidentally, the flower is pollinated.

Other dashes of color:

Prairie SmokeGeum triflorum – is a member of the Rose Family. The leaves are about 4-6” long, and are “pinnately” (like a feather) dissected–looking “fern-like (although ferns are a whole different order of plants). Leaves cluster plentifully at the base of the spreading plants.

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Prairie Smoke has many divided leaves and stalks dangling three flowers (hence the botanical name “triflorum“).

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Five fused maroon sepals (with extra bracteoles) surround the pale yellow petals of Prairie Smoke. Together they protect many anthers and pistils inside.

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After pollination, each of many pistils mature into feathery fruits, to fly off in the breezes. The heads look like a “bad hair day.” Many fruits together provide the “prairie smoke” effect.

Puccoon, Stoneseed, GromwellLithospermum ruderale – is a robust plant in the Borage Family.

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Flowers of StoneseedLithospermum ruderale – are held in the axils of the 1-3″ linear leaves on 1-2′ stems.

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The pale yellow flowers have a delicate lemon-like fragrance, worth bending down for a  sniff. They attract bumblebees, hawkmoths, solitary bees, and flies.

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Later, flowers will form white fruits with very tough seeds inside…hence the botanical name, which translates into “stone seed.”  The seeds are readily predated by deer mice.

Many peoples have used this plant for a variety of medicinal purposes, a reason why it has so many common names.

Three particularly abundant species:

Wyeth Biscuit RootLomatium ambiguum – with its wide spreading “umbels” of tiny bright yellow flowers is still growing in abundance at the Sawmill Pond Overlook and along the inner park road.

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Wyeth Biscuit RootLomatium ambiguum – grows along dry, disturbed road sides in the park.

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The tiny bright yellow flowers are in umbels (think umbrellas) typical of the Parsley Family. The leaves are dissected into at least 9 segments of various lengths and width. Note the swollen leaf bases.

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The tuber-like roots were eaten by Native Americans and are sought after by rodents and bears.

It is easy at first to confuse Wyeth Biscuit Root with its more obscure relative. Nine-leaf Spring Parsley – Lomatium simplex var. simplex – has pale yellow flowers and leaves dissected into 9 long, thin segments of equal width and length.

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Note the grayish 9-parted leaves and the pale yellow flowers (which will spread into wider umbels) on Nine-leaf Spring Parsley.

Western ValerianValeriana occidentalis – appears in almost every habitat – grassy hillsides, near wetlands, and sage flats.  While some promote Valerian as a sleep aide, it contains very toxic chemicals.  Plants develop such chemicals for defense.  Always research carefully any “medicinal” herbs.

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Note the tiny flowers of  Western Valerian.  In the field, observe how the clusters are held in an “candle-arbor like” arrangement.

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Leaves on the stem are opposite and pinnately compound.  Those at the base are usually undivided ovals.

Bright white Field ChickweedCerastium arvense – is found often in disturbed habitats.

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Each petal of Field Chickweed is notched at the tip. Can you count the number of anthers and styles in the center?

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The sharp-pointed, needle-like leaves are opposite on the 6-8” stems and often have extra leaves in the axils, which help distinguish it from Bering Chickweed – C. beeringianum – of subalpine and alpine habitats.

Many more flowers are in bloom on dry knolls and hillsides and in relatively moist forest edges. And new flowers will continue to bloom in the flats.  We will post additional information soon.

Frances Clark

Wilson, WY – June 10, 2016

P.S.  Of particular note at this moment of writing, is the phenomenal amount of pollen being shed by Lodgepole Pines (and perhaps other conifers.)  The photo taken in the Lamar Valley three days ago is representative of what is happening all around us now.

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Pine pollen looks like a fire starting in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley on June 6, 2016. Expect a big cone year in fall 2017.

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In this photo, the stack of male pine “cones”  will soon shed thousands of pollen grains upon the wind and, with lot of luck, pollen will land on separate female cones.  However, pine seeds be ripe until 18 months from now. The green female cone shown here is from last spring’s pollen event.